By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Stopping by In someone else's shoes

Rachel Thompson/News-Register
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When Dominic Vasquez posts photos of one of his unique shoe designs on Instagram, more than 66,000 followers react; the pair sells in a few hours. The McMinnville man creates his designs in downtown McMinnville.
Rachel Thompson/News-Register ## When Dominic Vasquez posts photos of one of his unique shoe designs on Instagram, more than 66,000 followers react; the pair sells in a few hours. The McMinnville man creates his designs in downtown McMinnville.
Rachel Thompson/News-Register##

Dominic Vasquez customizes a pair of Nikes in his After Dark Company studio on Third Street. Using dye, paint, a heat gun, razor blades, duct tape and liquid rubber, he creates designs for customers around the world. Customers love his designs so much, his waiting list extends to next may – and some people are willing to pay extra to “skip the line.”
Rachel Thompson/News-Register## Dominic Vasquez customizes a pair of Nikes in his After Dark Company studio on Third Street. Using dye, paint, a heat gun, razor blades, duct tape and liquid rubber, he creates designs for customers around the world. Customers love his designs so much, his waiting list extends to next may – and some people are willing to pay extra to “skip the line.”

Dominic Vasquez has customized shoes for fans all over the world. But some of his cutest pairs have gone to a very special customer in McMinnville, his not-quite-3-year-old son, Marcellus.

“He’s the reason I do this,” said Vasquez, displaying photos of Marcellus wearing tiny Nikes decorated with cartoon characters and superheroes.

Kids outgrow shoes and other clothing quickly, he said, so some of his son’s custom shoes have already become mementoes. Good memories.

Some of Vasquez’s adult shoes also sit on the shelves of collectors. That’s the customers’ prerogative, he said.

But he really intends for his shoes to be worn — hence, he usually calls himself a designer or shoe customizer, not an artist. But others use the “artist” word to describe him, especially when they see his “one-of-ones,” each a unique example of his designs.

Vasquez, who has a studio upstairs in downtown McMinnville, is working on a pair that look antiqued because the leather absorbed the blue dye at different rates.

“I like this distressed look,” he said as he began covering the sides with logos and words that will appeal to custom-shoe fans.

Once he puts photos of the pair on his Instagram page, it will be snapped up quickly. More than 66,000 people from every state and many countries haunt his page, eagerly awaiting his latest designs.

A new pair may be available for a few hours or, at most, a few days before it’s been purchased. But it also may be gone in minutes.

“There’s a lane for everybody,” he said. “There’s always somebody out there to buy. Someone else might hate it, but someone will think it’s the most awesome shoe ever.”

Vasquez calls his custom shoe and clothing business “The After Dark Company.” He sells T-shirts and sweatshirts with the After Dark logo in addition to both one-of-ones and a line of shoes with the RAW rolling papers logo.

“It’s crazy busy, which is really cool, because I love doing this,” he said.

After Dark shoes start out as basic Nike Air Force Ones. The style debuted in 1982 and has remained one of the Oregon company’s best sellers.

Vasquez recalled buying his first pair when he was in high school. The all-white shoes cost $85. In recent years, the price rose to $100, and now it’s $110 per pair.

“So I have to raise my prices, too,” he said, recalling that he first sold his customized shoes for $125; now they start at $190 to give him a profit margin.

Customers don’t seem to mind. They line up to pay $250, $400, $600, and some are willing to throw in an extra $500 to “skip the line” and get a pair now, rather than waiting.

He has so many orders, he estimates it will take until May 2023 for him to get through the whole list — a side effect of success.

Vasquez is a regular at the McMinnville Post Office, where he ships shoeboxes to other states and countries. Overseas shipments take a little more time, he said, because he has to fill out customs paperwork.

Customers in those other countries have to pay duty fees, as well as shipping costs. Shipping to Australia, for instance, runs about $85.

But customers don’t complain, Vasquez said; they really want his After Dark shoes.

And when they receive them, many people post pictures on social media of the unboxing, as well as of themselves wearing the shoes.

Vasquez also is a musician. He performed with Don Deniro for about a decade, giving hip-hop and rap shows in McMinnville and other parts of the Willamette Valley and west coast.

“I was always into music and art and shoes,” he said.

As a child, he filled notebooks with drawings. He drew rock stars, graffiti-style words and doodles. In school, he said, he was the classmate covering his desk with doodles, too.

He attended Columbus Elementary School and McMinnville High School. In between, he lived by turns in Sheridan, Newberg, the Portland area, and Las Vegas.

By age 10, he was helping his mother, Megan Vasquez, make custom clothing. They went to thrift stores, found used jackets and remade them into pieces of wearable art, for instance.

Megan did the sewing then, but he later taught himself to sew.

Vasquez customized his first pair of Nikes in 2019, for himself. He put pictures of them on social media, and “instantly” was hit with numerous requests from potential buyers.

He considered his art hobby might be a way to earn some extra money. Then in March 2020, it became an income source after his regular job fell victim to the pandemic — he had been working in the Dundee Bistro kitchen before it closed because of COVID restrictions.

Earlier, he had worked at jobs requiring hard physical labor, including a stint at a hay bale compressing plant, which he found frighteningly dangerous. He wanted to use his hands for safer and more creative work.

With his COVID stimulus money, he bought equipment such as an airbrush, vinyl cutter, dyes, paints, liquid rubber, a heat gun, chopsticks, razor blades, brushes and a Leatherman Super Tool. He watched YouTube tutorials and experimented on his own.

And he customized another pair of shoes, and another. Soon he was busy enough to rent a studio for his supplies and inventory.

“Views on Instagram just blew up,” he said about how quickly word spread about his shoe designs. “It was crazy. I was hearing from people all over the world.”

For his main line of shoes, the RAW ones, Vasquez starts by masking off areas of the top that will remain white. He covers the leather with green tape, which resists dye.

Then he dips the rest in a solution he stirs up from coffee, which produces the creamy brown he wants.

After dyeing, he adds decorative touches related to the RAW brand and ways the rolling papers can be used. He finishes with a coating that makes the shoes washable and long-lasting.

Each of the RAW pairs comes with an extra set of laces — made from hemp.

The RAW line is available in a variety of sizes in both men’s and women’s models, to accommodate almost any wearer.

“Fifty to a hundred times a day, I get messages from people wanting them,” he said. “I can’t ever get to the bottom of my list of requests, so many come in every day.’

In addition to reading messages, Vasquez does all the artwork himself. It’s time-consuming. For instance, he has to apply five or six coats of paint, leaving drying time between layers, to get the look he wants. Other steps are similarly meticulous.

He held up a pair covered with tiny symbols and letters. He calls it his “Half-Baked Shoe,” and it’s not for sale, he said.

“It took too long to make. I can’t sell it,” he explained — even though, he said, someone probably would offer hundreds of dollars for it.

“It’s surprising how many people are willing to pay,” he said.

A friend works for him several hours a week, doing prep work or getting things ready for shipping. He hopes to add more employees and maybe even open a retail shop within a few years.

His mother also is a big help, he said. She frequently delivers stacks of shoeboxes to the post office for shipping.

“She’s so awesome. She always asks if there’s anything I need,” he said fondly.

His girlfriend also is supportive. And his son helps him recharge his batteries; they like to play and draw together. Dad is teaching Marcellus, who will be 3 in January, to skateboard.

“He was on a skateboard the day he learned to walk,” Vasquez said proudly.

Vasquez is pleased by the success of the After Dark Company. He’s glad his shoes are in such high demand.

But there is one downside: He has to spend most of his time filling orders to which he’s already committed. That leaves only a few hours for making his “one-of-ones,” his real love.

“That’s what I do in my spare time,” he said. “It’s extremely satisfying.”

He may start with a firm idea or just pick up his pens and dyes and go for it. He often draws inspiration from music, TV shows, fabrics or “being outside with my son.

“I completely freestyle and just keep going,” he said. “It helps me relax and stay creative.”

When he’s finished with a one-of-one pair, he lets his followers know. They respond joyfully and quickly, and soon the shoes are sold.

Vasquez said he’s been asked to do commissions, but he’s not interested in making someone else’s designs; just his own.

He’s always pleased by the responses he receives from customers, and was happy when the RAW company reached out to him with compliments.

He’s recently been contacted by another rolling papers company, as well. He’s in the process of coming up with a concept for it.

He has designed shoes for rappers, such as Shordie Shordie and Xzibit, and some pro basketball and football players. But he’s turned down some celebrities, who wanted free shoes in exchange for being seen wearing them.

“They might get to skip the line, but I charge everybody,” he said. “I want to be paid for my time.”

Besides, he’s doing well, really well, without celebrities’ help.

A little more than two years after starting his business, Vasquez has finished hundreds of shoes, from one-of-ones, such as his National Geographic pair, to numerous pairs in the RAW line.

Out of all the shoes he’s customized, he said, his favorite is a blue-dyed pair on which he painted the yellow After Dark logo. His son has the same pair, only smaller.

Comments

NativeOregonian

Very cool. Love reading these types of stories about local folks.